Interview with DARIUS RUCKER



Darius Rucker says he never counted on reaching a point in country music where he would be a bona fide arena-level headliner. But with his fourth studio album, “Southern Style,” having produced a top five hit single in “Homegrown Honey” and a summer tour under way, that’s exactly what’s happened.

His intinerary this summer takes him to the large outdoor amphitheaters as he winds his way from coast to coast.

“It’s pretty awesome, especially when I remember six or seven years ago starting out and being the first guy on the Dierks (Bentley) and Brad (Paisley) tour and not knowing what’s going to happen, not knowing what’s going to happen with the single, just out there trudging along,” Rucker said in recent phone interview. “And now seven years later I’m headlining amphitheaters and arenas and stuff. It’s amazing. It’s more than I ever wished for with this. I just wanted to make a few records. I thought if they’d let me make a couple of records, that would be great. It’s great to have actually been able to make those records and have success.”

Success might be an understatement. Rucker, who first came to fame fronting the rock band Hootie & The Blowfish (whose 1996 album, “Cracked Rear View,” sold 16 million copies in the United States alone), made the transition to the country music world with his 2008 solo album, “Learn To Live.”

He didn’t have to worry for long about whether his music would register with country fans. “Learn To Live” sold more than a million copies while producing three number one country singles — “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” and “Alright.”

His 2010 second album, “Charleston, SC 1966,” added two more chart-topping singles to Rucker’s country resume and also went platinum.

Then came the 2013 album “True Believers,” which cemented Rucker’s place as one of country’s leading men. The lead single from the album, “Wagon Wheel,” topped “Billboard” magazine’s country singles chart and won a Grammy for Best Country Solo Performance. A follow-up single, “Radio,” went top five.

Now comes “Southern Style,” which arrived last spring.

With his string of hits, Rucker can fill much of his live show with popular singles. This means options for which other songs to put into his live set have gotten a bit more limited – not that he’s complaining that popularity is making it harder to put together a set list.

“You know you’re going to play the hits and all that stuff,” Rucker said. “But you’ve got to figure out what album tracks to play. I want to bring back some songs from the first record, the second record and there are probably four or five songs on the new record that I want to play. So it’s really tough. You’ve got put it all together right so people, they want to hear the songs they want to hear. So you put it together right, but you also want to have a blast and play the songs you want to play…It’ll be fun. I know that.”

Rucker’s success in country music is especially noteworthy because he’s African-American. The only other major African-American star in recent country history was Charley Pride, who was one of the genre’s leading stars from the late 1960s into the early 1980s.

There was talk when Rucker signed to Capitol Records Nashville before releasing “Learn To Live” that he would face long odds in his pursuit of success in country.

“I think there were some people in the business, in country music, that thought it wouldn’t work,” Rucker said, “One guy, I won’t say any names or where he worked, but he was one of my good friends. And he said to me ‘Dude, I just didn’t think it was going to work. I didn’t know if people would
accept an African-
American country
singer. And I was wrong.’

“It’s amazing how universally it’s accepted,” he said of his music. “It’s like it’s no big deal to the fans. It’s like they just hear good music, and when they hear good music, they want to go buy it. And if they like your voice, they’re going to buy it. And if they see you and you’re good, they’re going to come back again. The fans just want music. Ninety percent of the fans, all they care about is the music. So those are the people I’m trying to reach. Anybody that it matters to them, that the color of my skin makes them not want to listen to my music, I don’t want them to listen to my music anyway.”

“Southern Style” stays true, for the most part, to Rucker’s first three albums, with a rootsy sound built around his warm baritone vocals. But it’s not a carbon copy of his earlier music, either.

For one thing, Rucker considers it his “countriest” album yet.

“I thought all of my last three records were country, but this one just seems to twang a little more than the other three, I think,” Rucker said.

Part of the country character of “Southern Style” came down to the choice of songs, Rucker said. In particular, the frisky “Good For A Good Time,” with its Texas swing tempo, fiddle and twangy guitar, and the ballad “Low Country,” with its weeping slide guitar and rustic sound, push traditional country elements to the forefront of the songs.

There’s also a bigger presence of acoustic instruments, such as guitar, mandolin and fiddle, which gives peppy songs like “Homegrown Honey” and “Baby I’m Right” and mid-tempo tunes like “Half Full Dixie Cup” and “High On Life,” a particularly earthy sound.

“I think we got a little more organic
with the instrumentation on this record, and I thought that was cool,” Rucker said.

What’s also different is the mood of the “Southern Style” album. Aside from only a couple of songs, this is a decidedly upbeat album about good times (on the town or with that special someone), good loving (“Perfect” is about Rucker’s wife of 15 years , Beth, and mother of his three children) and making good music (“You, Me, And My Guitar”).

“I love ‘True Believers,’ and it was
such an important record and I think it did so much for my career and everything. But it was such a serious record,” Rucker said, “But with this record, it was more let’s have fun. Let’s have as much fun as we can. Let’s stop being as serious as we were on the last record.”

Somehow, an upbeat album seems right in line for a guy like Rucker, whose success in country music — and a happy home life — are giving him plenty of
reasons to smile these days.

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